Thackeray versus Thackeray

In true Shiv Sena tradition, the public spat between the two Thackeray cousins, Raj and Uddhav, was resolved behind closed doors after a three-hour meeting with the party's undisputed leader, Bal Thackeray. However, the differences between Raj, the nephew of the senior Thackeray, and Uddhav, the son, go too far back in time to be papered over. Although the cousins claimed all disputes between them had been settled and agreed to work for the betterment of the party, the two have a great deal more than their personal political ambitions to reconcile. Over time, Raj, who entered the political scene much before Uddhav, has come to represent the organisational muscle-power of the Sena. Uddhav, who inherited the leadership of the party when his father chose him as executive president in preference to Raj, is a relative newcomer; he represents the Sena's aspiration to be recognised as a party of governance. In some ways, the two represent the existential dilemma of the Sena: the party indulges in lawlessness and strong-arm tactics while in opposition, and converts its impossible promises into compromises when voted to power.

The current spell of troubles owes its origins to the Narayan Rane crisis. Although Mr. Rane, a former Sena Chief Minister, is now in the Congress, he brought to light a real division in the Sena: between the law-defying cadre and the power-wielding leadership. Raj was close to Mr. Rane, and when he chose to skip the former Sena leader's stronghold Kankavali from his tour programme of the Konkan region, supporters of Uddhav voiced their protest. Sanjay Raut, executive editor of the party organ, Saamna, wrote that Mr. Raj Thackeray should have defied the police and courted arrest rather than skip Mr. Rane's constituency. Mr. Raj Thackeray's response was a call that the Sena be restructured by dropping "inefficient" partymen from their organisational posts, a thinly veiled reference to Uddhav appointees. Raj also blamed Uddhav for sending a large number of Sainiks from Mumbai for the tour, thereby creating a law and order situation. While political rivalry between the two second-generation Thackerays was well known, this was the first time the two were beginning to air their differences publicly. Any conflict between the two cousins had the potential to split the Sena, and in quick damage-control mode, former Chief Minister Manohar Joshi brought about a meeting of the two with the supremo. Quite in character, the solution handed down by the senior Thackeray did little more than apportion blame evenly on the two young leaders: Raj was reprimanded for going public about his grievances, Uddhav pulled up for bringing about the crisis situation. The paterfamilias' intervention seems to have brought the developing crisis under control for now. But unless the Sena comes to terms with its deep-seated internal contradictions, the Raj-Uddhav incompatibility may trigger, sooner than later, an explosive split in the party and movement.